Once-maligned German officer promoted to general | News | DW | 08.08.2012
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Once-maligned German officer promoted to general

As a colonel serving in Afghanistan in 2009, Georg Klein ordered an airstrike on two stolen fuel tankers. The fireball killed over 100 people who were siphoning fuel. An inquiry long closed, he's now been promoted.

Colonel Georg Klein, photo taken on September 6, 2009 in Kundus, Afghanistan.

Der deutsche Oberst Georg Klein

Colonel Georg Klein is to be promoted to general, running a new personnel management department within the German army, the Bundeswehr. The Defense Ministry announced the promotion on Wednesday, with a ministry spokesman saying the 51-year-old was "well suited" to the new role. Klein is best known in Germany as the officer who called in the infamous "Kundus airstrike" in the night of September 3 and 4, 2009.

Aware that two fuel tankers had apparently been hijacked by the Taliban, not far from a German base, Klein called in air support to destroy them - fearing that they might be used to attack the barracks. The officer had not realized, however, that dozens of civilians had gathered around the tankers trying to siphon off fuel. According to official figures, more than 100 people were killed in the ensuing fireball.

The attack and its subsequent handling in parliament and the public sphere cost former Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung his new job as labor minister, just a matter of weeks after he had switched portfolios. Jung's tenure as labor minister is the shortest ministerial posting in post-war German history.

Afgahn security forces stand near the wreckage of one of the tankers on September 4, 2009.

The attack prompted uproar in Germany, and brought about a ministerial resignation

Klein came under considerable pressure himself in the wake of the attack, and was subject to a military investigation and investigation by the public prosecutor's offices in Germany. Neither body decided to press any charges, however, with the legal inquiry formally closed in August 2010.

A parliamentary investigation into the affair decided that the families of those killed in the attacks were entitled to $5,000 (4,030 euros) in compensation.

The Kundus incident is almost certain to have slowed Klein's rise through the ranks, with the German army saying that it was "high time" for his "wholly normal promotion." Klein's new department, to be based in Cologne, will also be responsible for non-military personnel working with or for the Bundeswehr. He is likely to take over the role early next year, and will probably be made a brigadier general in the subsequent months.

There are currently about 200 generals in the Bundeswehr's ranks, though that number is due to shrink as the military is restructured and streamlined in coming years.

msh/mz (dapd, dpa)